Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C Lectio divina on Jn 10,27-30
When Jesus had finished speaking about himself as the Good Shepherd, he went on to describe briefly his relationship with his sheep, and his relationship with his Father. Jesus and the Father are inseparable. With his disciples he is the Good Shepherd. He continues to share his life with his flock. They listen to him and follow him. He gives his life for his flock and he knows that none of them will be lost. However, the main focus of his attention is God. He is one with the Father and therefore he cannot lose anything that the Father has given him. The intimate relationship of the Son with the Father guarantees the Shepherd’s sharing of his life with his flock. He cannot endanger his filial relationship with the Father because he wants to ensure that none of the flock is lost. The goodness of the Shepherd depends on his inseparable communion with the Father.
Anyone who follows Christ and lives with him knows that he belongs to Christ, and therefore he belongs also to the Father. Anyone who follows the path of the Good Shepherd knows that he is in the hands of the Father of Jesus. Following Jesus means being a son of God. In one way, Jesus needs to take care of us because God cares for us as he cares for his own Son. That is how much we are worth! When Jesus takes care of us, we feel that we are cared for by the Father as his children.
At that time: Jesus said 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; 28 and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focusing on how it says it.
The liturgical text is hard to understand because it is so short and because no historical or literary context is given. To whom is Jesus speaking? What went before and what came after his words? It is hard for us to see the motive that gave rise to the discourse. We have to depend on what he said, and he said very little.
In this text, Jesus is answering those who cannot believe, because they do not belong to his sheepfold (Jn 10,26). The criterion might surprise us, but it reflects the Christian awareness and concept of discipleship. Only those who feel protected by Christ can trust in him. If some do not follow him (Jn10,3), it is because they do not listen to his voice and so do not recognize him. Being a disciple means sharing life with him, recognizing him and being recognized by him (Jn10,27; cf 10,14-15). Those who follow him will not be lost. Nothing can snatch them from his hand (Jn 20,28). The hand of God is a biblical image of divine power and attention (Dt.32,39; Is.43,13). Belonging to Jesus is a gift from God (Jn 6,37,39,44). Indeed, the ultimate reason for this life without end, which is promised to those who follow him, lies in our being entrusted to Jesus. The people that the Son holds in his hands are those entrusted to him by the Father (Jn 10,28- 29). Nothing is more important than the Father. No power is greater than his. Nothing that he cares for will be lost. Anyone who believes in Jesus is in good hands, those of the Father.
Jesus defines himself as a Shepherd, at the same time defining the link that binds him to the flock that listens to him, follows him and receives eternal life from him. The Father, to whom both Shepherd and flock belong, is the one who has entrusted the flock to the Son, who cannot lose any of the flock, because no one can snatch them from him.
Jesus’ flock can remain safe, because they know him well and constantly listen to his voice. The flock can listen to him because they live with him and follow him always.
The Son’s initiative reflects that of the Father. He does what the Father does (Jn.5,17). Moreover, the Father and the Son are one (Jn.10,30). They guard those who believe in him. Their unity is functional, not personal. They are united in the saving action. In the Temple, the sacred place of the presence of God, Jesus proclaims that God’s action is present. In so doing, he confirms the principal functions of the Temple and its need for salvation. There was no expectation that the Messiah would replace the Temple.
One fundamental aspect needs to be underlined: the relationship between Jesus and his flock leads to the Father. The Father appointed him¸ no one can take this office to himself. Jesus cares for the flock as the Son of God and shepherd of the Father’s flock. In caring for the flock, the Father and Jesus act in identical manner. They will not allow anyone to steal the flock from their hands. Because they are united to the flock, the Father and Jesus are one. The two are one only, because they are guardians and guides of the same flock. Guiding the flock is what makes the Son a Shepherd, and the Father God.
II. Meditation: apply what the text says to life
I have God as my protector: am I at peace in facing an uncertain future? However painful and insecure the journey may be, his hand defends and guides me. But do I believe this? Do I believe Jesus when he assures me that he is one with God, and that he will not allow me to be snatched from his hands? I fear that I am losing a lot, lost as I am among many things, together with so many people, in the middle of various situations, nourishing so many illusions which distract me from Jesus and his word! If I listen again to his word, it will bring me back to his hands, safe for the whole of my life.
Even though they are brief, these words of Jesus are full of comfort and consolation. They are part of a longer discourse which Jesus addressed to the Jews during a feast in the Temple. Jesus compares himself to a Shepherd who is so good that he is willing to lay down his life for his flock. His words met with the incredulity of his listeners. The Jews then, like us today, did not believe that a person of sound mind would be willing to give his life for others, much less that a shepherd would sacrifice his life for his sheep.
A sacrifice so great is so rare that it is not credible. Jesus insists and, returning to the comparison with the shepherd, speaks about the intimate relationship that he has with his disciples. Not only does he give his life for them: he wants to continue to remain united with them, to guide them and to care for them. To make sure that his words are not forgotten, it would be no harm for us to ask ourselves about our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Do we really have a personal relationship with him, or do we at least desire it? How do we cultivate our relationship with Jesus? What are we missing, if we are deprived of the certainty that Christ is our Good Shepherd? How can we help feeling lost at times, if we do not feel that we are guided every day by Jesus Christ? Where does my insecurity come from? What is my future? What do I follow in life, and how much effort do I make to save my life? Whom do I follow? Jesus himself has given us some criteria in the gospel to check whether or not we belong to him.
“My sheep,” says the Lord,” listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me.” Jesus maintains with his disciples a genuine sharing of his life and destiny, like the life of the shepherd who devotes himself completely to his flock.
The sheep follow the shepherd they know, and they know him because he lives his life with them, sharing sleep and work, rest and fatigue, meals and free time. They get to know him, even though he is different from them. This is the kind of relationship Jesus has with his followers. They feel safe in following him, because they know him well. And they know him because they listen to him constantly. They can hear him because they live with him. Jesus’ disciples know that they can trust in God, as the sheep trust the shepherd, because he stays by their side, day and night, sharing work, rest and food, and all other preoccupations.
When the disciples of Jesus know that they are guided by God, they can live without fear, knowing that they are being well looked after. Like sheep, Christians do not need to worry about where they are going today, or where they will rest tomorrow. Knowing that we are led and protected by God ensures that every uncertainty is overcome by the certainty that he is close to us, facing the same danger and walking the same path. We are protected by God and so we can face the future, even if it is uncertain. It does not matter how difficult or insecure life may be, his hand is there to defend and guide us.
However, if we are to feel God’s protection, we need to accept the person of Jesus and follow his guidance. Anyone who does not walk with him will never be able to feel that he is near. If we do not make an effort to follow him, we have no right to expect that he will accompany us on life’s journey. It is enough for us to have the courage to allow him to go before us. We know that he will accompany us and protect us if we dedicate some time to him, and listen to him. If we give him a bigger space in our lives, he will hold us safe in his hands, take care of us in this life and give us eternal life. Many of us are lost, it seems, like strangers among so many people and things, in situations that distract us from Christ and from his word. Let us start listening again to his word, if we want him to guide and defend our lives.
Anyone who follows Jesus closely and obeys him, has no reason to fear: “they shall never perish and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” There is no reason to be anxious when we belong to his flock. He will not lose any of his sheep and none of them will be stolen from him.
The Father holds Jesus in his hands and Jesus holds his disciples in his arms, ready to risk his own life rather than allow any of those who belong to him to be captured. Knowing that we are being cared for by Jesus does not mean that we are free from all necessities, but we know that he shares the same life, and this should be enough for us. Knowing that we belong to his flock does not mean that all our problems are solved, but it gives us the assurance that we will not face them alone. Christ the Shepherd goes before us and we follow him. Before he reaches us, he has already taken on our difficulties. We will overcome our fears if we know we are accompanied by Christ. And we will be accompanied by Christ if we go wherever he wants to lead us. As long as we follow him wherever he goes, there will be no danger to our salvation. It is not the difficulties of life that make life hard for us. The hardest thing for us is following Christ wherever he leads us. It is not that life is bad, but that we are not good Christians. We should ask ourselves again, why do we live our faith with such uncertainty, with so little hope, so much fear and so little joy. Why do we ask for so many proofs from God to help us to live in peace, knowing that he is with us? The reason is not easy, and it is hard for us to admit: we do not know where God is leading us, and we do not like going there, because we do not want to do his will. We do not feel loved by God. If we refuse to follow him, we cannot pretend to belong to his company. When we look to others and search elsewhere for assurance, it makes us doubt all the more about where God is leading us, and we lose the certainty of having him close to us. It follows that we ought to have God as our companion and follow him. If we are attentive to his demands, we can feel sure that he will attend to us. If we respond to his voice, we will have the answer to all our needs. The Good Shepherd satisfies the desires of those who satisfy his desires. Listening to Jesus and obeying him, knowing him personally and following him closely, will be our strength in all our difficulties in this life, now and always. He will recognize us as his followers, in all our needs in this present life, and in the future after our death.
He has given us his word. It is up to us to trust in him. Is there anyone who can promise us more? The fact that he asks to be our shepherd is the greatest consolation we can hear today. Let us live our lives as members of his flock, listening to him and getting to know him. If we follow him and share in his life, we will never regret it.